Graduate Symposium @ NYU April 14, 2012

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About the Conference:
The NYU Institute for Public Knowledge Cultures of Finance Working Group and the Bruce Initiative for Rethinking Capitalism at UC Santa Cruz are pleased to announce a joint conference, “Futures of Finance: Financial Capitalism as an Object of Knowledge and Site of Political Engagement.” The conference will focus on the open question of “the future of finance” from the specifically narrowed point of view of the relationship between how finance is conceptualized as a technical economic practice and how it is understood and narrated publicly as a logic of social relations.

The graduate student symposium will be held as part of the conference. The conference organizers wish to maximize the interaction between the presenters and the graduate fellows throughout the multi-day event. The aim is to have the graduate fellows help lay the groundwork for a network of finance practitioners and scholars whose work resists standard academic or disciplinary categorization. Accordingly, beyond participation in the conference and symposium, graduate fellows will be invited to remain involved in future conferences and graduate seminars jointly planned by IPK Cultures of Finance and the Bruce Initiative. Graduate fellows will be invited not just to develop their own work, but to engage in collaborative efforts to make pedagogy a priority and bring new productive energy to graduate curricula in economics, business, finance, and the social sciences.

We hope graduate fellows will use the conference discussions and presentations as interventions in the trajectory of their own work, and will be open to re-imagining the possibilities of their empirical or theoretic frames. To facilitate this, graduate fellows will serve as moderators and rapporteurs for the main conference plenaries and panels, and as members of the working groups drafting proposals for areas of future research. Rapporteur summaries of each event will appear on the IPK blog and/or conference website or as a post-conference document for all participants.

About the Graduate Fellows Symposium:
The goal of the conference is to create perspectives on finance, informed by technical practice and critical analysis, that can help to produce effective modes of regulatory, cultural, and political intervention. As invited senior scholars and finance professionals address these issues in plenaries and panel sessions, we seek complementary graduate student projects linking case studies, ethnographies, and other forms of empirical work or analysis to broader theoretic concerns.

Rather than submitting an abstract or paper, student applicants are asked to submit a one-page précis of a current research project, including, but not limited to fieldwork, an article, dissertation, or dissertation chapter. The organizers will identify similar projects (e.g. by theme, object, or theory) and pair up students. Each pair will be asked to articulate the ways in which interventions from the conference, including political contestations such as Occupy Wall Street, and other political, legal, ethical, or cultural aporias are shaping or guiding their research. What new questions or unexplored terrain emerges as a result of ideas discussed in the conference? What new limits or frontiers have become apparent? How does this impact the theoretical, empirical, and methodological stakes of the research project? At the beginning of the graduate student symposium, each student pair will be asked to draft a statement based upon these questions. Each pair will then jointly guide a discussion in which these issues are explored through the prism of each pair’s research projects. This discussion will feature the participation of the senior scholars and finance practitioners from the complementary panels of the main conference.

We invite the participation of graduate students from across the social sciences whose work explores new or emergent elements of the following three thematics: 1) Banking and Money 2) Financial Cultures and Debt Movements 3) Scholarly Disciplines and Financial Literacies. Within these broad thematics, student research may engage topics that include, but are not limited to: financial crisis; financial practitioners and workplaces; cultures of finance, legal and political domains of finance, e.g. regulation; technologies of finance; labor in finance; financial categories, e.g. risk and uncertainty; futures of capitalism; moralities, theologies, or ethical orientations of finance.

To apply, please send the following materials by February 19, 2012: a one-page CV, a one-page project précis (including any references or endnotes), and a 250-word abstract. Please format all documents with 1” margins, size 12 Times New Roman, and single spacing. Selected participants will be notified by March 5, 2012, and will be requested to send a final draft of the one-page précis by March 18, 2012. Each student’s précis will be pre-circulated and all presentations and discussions—occurring both among students and with the invited participants of the main conference—will presume familiarity with the pre-circulated documents.

Funding will be provided for Graduate Fellows’ travel to and lodging in New York.

Please send your application to:
send questions to:
Bridget Kustin (
or Robert Wosnitzer (

The conference website at will be updated continually as senior scholars and finance practitioners confirm their participation.

Best wishes,

Conference Organizers

Arjun Appadurai (New York University)
Stephen Bruce (Bruce Initiative on Rethinking Capitalism)
Craig Calhoun (NYU Institute for Public Knowledge)
Samuel Carter (NYU Institute for Public Knowledge)
Peter Dimock (Bruce Initiative on Rethinking Capitalism)
Bridget Kustin (Johns Hopkins University)
Benjamin Lee (New School for Social Research)
Randy Martin (New York University)
Robert Meister (University of California, Santa Cruz)
Bernie Richter (Bruce Initiative on Rethinking Capitalism)
Robert Wosnitzer (New York University)

Image/“Dissolution”/Elana Kundell from

The Shareholder Value Myth (Excerpt)

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Introduction pg 3-4

Shareholder value thinking is endemic in the business world today. Fifty years ago, if you had asked the directors or CEO of a large public company what the company’s purpose was, you might have been told the corporation had many purposes: to provide equity investors with solid returns, but also to build great products, to provide decent livelihoods for employees, and to contribute to the community and the nation. Today, you are likely to be told the company has but one purpose, to maximize its shareholders’ wealth. This sort of thinking drives directors and executives to run public firms like BP with a relentless focus on raising stock price. In the quest to “unlock shareholder value” they sell key assets, fire loyal employees, and ruthlessly squeeze the workforce that remains; cut back on product support, customer assistance, and research and development; delay replacing outworn, outmoded, and unsafe equipment; shower CEOs with stock options and expensive pay packages to “incentivize” them; drain cash reserves to pay large dividends and repurchase company shares, leveraging firms until they teeter on the brink of insolvency; and lobby regulators and Congress to change the law so they can chase short-term profits speculating in credit default swaps and other high-risk financial derivatives. They do these things even though many individual directors and executives feel uneasy about such strategies, intuiting that a single-minded focus on share price may not serve the interests of society, the company, or shareholders themselves.

This book examines and challenges the doctrine of shareholder value. It argues that shareholder value ideology is just that—an ideology, not a legal requirement or a practical necessity of modern business life. United States corporate law does not, and never has, required directors of public corporations to maximize either share price or shareholder wealth. To the contrary, as long as boards do not use their 4 Introduction power to enrich themselves, the law gives them a wide range of discretion to run public corporations with other goals in mind, including growing the firm, creating quality products, protecting employees, and serving the public interest.

Chasing shareholder value is a managerial choice, not a legal requirement. Nevertheless, by the 1990s, the idea that corporations should serve only shareholder wealth as reflected in stock price came to dominate other theories of corporate purpose. Executives, journalists, and business school professors alike embraced the need to maximize shareholder value with near-religious fervor. Legal scholars argued that corporate managers ought to focus only on maximizing the shareholders’ interest in the firm, an approach they somewhat misleadingly called “shareholder primacy.” (“Shareholder absolutism” or “shareholder dictatorship” would be more accurate.) It should be noted that a handful of scholars and activists continued to argue for “stakeholder” visions of corporate purpose that gave corporate managers breathing room to consider the interests of employees, creditors, and customers. A small number of others advocated for “corporate social responsibility” to ensure that public companies indeed served the public interest writ large. But by the turn of the millennium, such alternative views of good corporate governance had been reduced to the status of easily ignored minority reports. Business and policy elites in the United States and much of the rest of the world as well accepted as a truth that should not be questioned that corporations exist to maximize shareholder value.

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